Lord John Russell

Lord John Russell served as prime minister on two occasions. He had initially came to Parliamentary attention for helping to write the 1832 Reform Bill, which significantly increased the number of people eligible to vote. He benefitted from the fallout over the Corn Laws that saw the demise of Sir Robert Peel's administration. He did actually help Peel repeal the Corn Laws but could (and would) not help protect Peel from his own Conservative party.

Russell's first administration was not that successful. There were many domestic and international problems. Europe was suffering widespread shortages and famine which in turn helped lead to the 1848 revolutions that shook monarchies across the continent. The Irish potato famine was still raging and a widespread slump affected Britain. Russell did manage to introduce laws to liberalise trade. He also managed to limit working hours for women. The Education Act of 1847 improved pay for teachers and granted money to non-conformist schools. The 1850 The Australian Colonies Act gave representative government to New South Wales.

In December 1851 Lord Russell sacked his foreign minister, Lord Palmerston, after he had recognised the government formed by Napoleon III in France without consulting with his fellow cabinet ministers. Palmerston gained revenge by proposing an amendment to the Militia Bill that was carried by eleven votes. As a result of this defeat Russell resigned and was replaced by the Earl of Derby.

Russell returned to serve under Lord Aberdeen when he became prime minister in 1852. In December Russell brought before the cabinet a new parliamentary reform bill. Many members of the cabinet, including Lord Palmerston, disagreed with the measure and threatened to resign. Disappointed by the lack of support from his colleagues, Russell decided to leave office. For the next four years Russell decided to concentrate on writing books about his political hero, Charles Fox such as Life and Times of Fox.

In 1859 Russell became foreign secretary in Lord Palmerston's government. However he still maintained his interest in extending the franchise and in 1860 introduced a new parliamentary reform act into the House of Commons. Lord Palmerston was not keen on aiding his minister and so it did not become law.

In 1861 he was created Earl Russell. He would become prime minister again four years later when the venerable Palmerston suddenly died. One of his first decisions was to try to reintroduce the parliamentary reform proposals that had been rejected in 1860. The majority of the MPs in the House of Commons were still opposed to further reform and after the government was defeated on a vote on 18th June 1866, Earl Russell resigned.

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by Stephen Luscombe